Group Dynamics
The Blue Rider and
Collectives of the Modernist Period

As part of the program "Global Museum. Collections of the 20th Century from a Global Perspective" of the German Federal Cultural Foundation

After a heated debate in which the antagonists almost came to blows, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Gabriele Münter resigned from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists' Association Munich) on December 2, 1911. A mere two weeks after the confrontation, they and their fellow dissenters mounted a counter-exhibition at Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. Alongside their own art, they presented works by August Macke, Robert Delaunay, Elisabeth Epstein, Albert Bloch, David and Vladimir Burliuk, Arnold Schoenberg, and Henri Rousseau. The presentation's full title, The First Exhibition of the Editorial Board of Der Blaue Reiter, made explicit reference to the Almanac project: this programmatic yearbook would establish the Blue Rider as one of the first transnational artists' circles.

Two interconnected exhibition projects at the Lenbachhaus Munich showcase the museum’s outstanding collection of Blue Rider art in dialogue with modernist artists' collectives from all over the world. Starting around 1900, a startling multitude of collective processes and group formations among artists came into being. In exhibitions and writings, they articulated shared aesthetic stances and their determination to bring about intellectual, spiritual, and social change. A close examination of the phenomena of the collective and group dynamics can spur a fresh discussion of categories such as authorship and artistic autonomy, bringing art into focus as a communal process and vigorous debate.

The artists who came together in the Blue Rider circle regarded art as a universal language. "The whole body of work we call art," they wrote, "knows neither borders nor nations but only humanity." However, as their imagination was constrained by the colonial global order before the First World War, they, like others, did not succeed in implementing an emancipatory praxis of art  beyond national affiliations and traditional hierarchies and genres. Still, their credo implied that all cultural production was ultimately of equal rank, and this idea is at the heart of the Lenbachhaus's undertaking. Instead of staging the history of styles or aesthetics as a succession of expressions of rivaling tendencies, our exhibition will shed light on the development of collectives in their historical contexts, reconstructing their political agendas and visions both practicable and, in some instances, utopian. Traces of collective labor may be found in manifestos, exhibitions, periodicals, collaborative creations, newly founded schools, and agitation efforts. The period we have chosen, from around 1900 to 1970, spans both the inception of various modernization movements and, at its other end, processes of decolonization and the emergence of new nations.

Groups are propelled by steadfast loyalties and irreconcilable ruptures. Their dynamic is unpredictable: collaboration, discussions, conviviality, rivalry, friendship, open-mindedness, inclusion, dissociation, weariness, controversy, love, polemics, and enthusiasm are characteristic features of the lives of groups. They provide us with one possible model for an understanding of art that is not grounded in the individual: art does not come into being in a vacuum, it grows out of exchanges of ideas and social interactions.

Funded by the

The project "Group Dynamics—The Blue Rider and Collectives of the Modernist Period" is part of the German Federal Cultural Foundation's initiative Global Museum. It succeeds projects at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in which these institutions reframed their collection-building, research, and exhibition programs in a global perspective and contributed to the story of a plural modernism.

The two exhibitions:

Group Dynamics—The Blue Rider
Lenbachhaus, March 23, 2021, to remain on view for ca. 2 years

Group Dynamics—Collectives of the Modernist Period
Lenbachhaus, October 19, 2021–June 12, 2022

Symposium "Group Dynamics—Collectives of the Modernist Period"

The symposium's purpose is to share recent research about widely diverse "collectives of the modernist period" and the ways in which entrenched narrative patterns and modes of presentation inform the work of art historians and curators. We would like to broaden and deepen our knowledge about collectives and engage the invited speakers in conversation to learn more about artists, movements, and discourses whose significance has long been undisputed among scholars specializing in particular areas of art history yet which remain largely obscure to broader audiences. The lectures accordingly turn the spotlight on selected exemplary artists' groups worldwide. The speakers will examine the collectives' particular motivations, their specific modes of practice and forms of expression, the historical and political contexts in which they emerged, and the influence these groups and movements exerted on the subsequent evolution of the art of their time and place. We hope that the symposium will help initiate seminal discussions about the dynamic processes within groups and collective practices and so also prompt a critical revision of established categories such as authorship, autonomy, and canonical aesthetics.

More information

Third Space: Disordering the Mess

"Third Space: Disordering the Mess" is an artistic-pedagogical initiative founded as part of the project "Group Dynamics. Collectives of the Modernist Period" at the Lenbachhaus. The "Third Space" is conceived as a bridging and mediation channel between communities of struggle—members of the urban community who are excluded by certain experiences of discrimination—and the museum as a public cultural space. The initiative's focus lies on connecting the museum to the lives and active communities around it—with special attention to their social and critical perspectives.

Learn more about "Third Space"